APERS Deputy Director Jay Wills Retires
On Friday, August 23, 2019 APERS will bid a sad farewell to Frank J. “Jay” Wills, our former legal counsel, Deputy Director, and Acting Executive Director as he enters a well-deserved retirement. Wills leaves quite a legacy at APERS, as he was called on to guide the system through a busy transition following the retirement of long-time Executive Director Gail Stone at the beginning of 2019. As acting director, Wills kept a steady hand on the wheel, working with legislators during the 92nd Regular Session of the General Assembly and overseeing the final phase of the implementation of APERS’ new interactive COMPASS pension administration system that allows APERS, its employers, and members to communicate and manage business through a web-based portal.
Wills earned his undergraduate degree at Southwestern (now Rhodes College) in Memphis, and then completed his law degree at Vanderbilt University. Before putting his legal skills to use, he worked as a welder and then as a tanker man on a Mississipi River barge before entering private practice, primarily specializing in insurance law.
Wills began his career in state government in 1986, working for the Office of Attorney General, where he remained until 1993. He then served two years as general counsel for the Arkansas Department of Health and four years as head of legal operations for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. In 2002, Wills became Deputy Director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
In December of 2007, Wills moved to APERS as the system’s legal counsel and quickly became a popular member of the management team. In addition to his formidable legal skills, Wills’ engaging personality and sense of humor endeared him to APERS’ staff and membership. Wills combined hard work and talent with a generous team spirit. For example, every Friday he came to work with a box of doughnuts to be shared with APERS’ staff. His door was always open, and he treated everybody who entered as a friend.
When the office of Deputy Director came open In 2016, Wills was asked to take on that responsibility. He accepted the job and began overseeing APERS’ day-to-day operations during the most crucial phase of its conversion from a paper-based system to a fully computerized operation. At the same time, Wills continued managing the system’s legal affairs until APERS found a replacement legal counsel, and he remained an invaluable resource whenever legal advice was needed.
In December 2018, Executive Director Gail Stone retired after almost 18 years in that post. Once again, Wills stepped in to fill the gap as Acting Executive Director where he steadied the ship for the next four months and helped make the leadership transition as smooth as possible. When Duncan Baird took over the reins in April 2019, Wills returned to his post as Deputy Director and served as a reliable source of institutional knowledge for the new Executive Director.
It is fitting that Frank J. Wills will start the next phase of his life as an APERS retiree. No one better deserves to receive the literal fruits of his labor in the form of a pension from the Arkansas Public Employees’ Retirement System. Wills’ career in state government and at APERS in particular epitomizes the concept of a “public” employee, and he will be sorely missed by those of us he leaves behind.